My Writing: My Progression, My Ritual

As soon as I had all my topics decided on, the next step in the process of writing my book Prayer A to Z was easy. I just took one topic (a chapter) at a time, did whatever reading and bible study I thought was sufficient for that topic, and went from there. I always highlighted important material as I read, took some notes, and then made an outline.

At first my idea was to make the chapters short—about two typed pages. I was still using the material as an insert in the church bulletin, so I didn’t want it to be too long. Eventually, after about the first ten chapters, I changed my mind about the length. I could see that there was much more I could write on each topic. So, I made a big decision to go back and re-write all that I did before moving on. Now, instead of each chapter taking only a couple days to write, it took sometimes a couple weeks—or more. But it was what I wanted and it looked better. More importantly, I was sure that it was what God wanted; and more and more I regarded the entire project as His.

I remember so clearly those early days of the writing.  I didn’t have a computer yet, so I just used my typewriter, and then I managed to persuade the church secretary to go over it (retype it) using her computer. She didn’t seem to mind, and at the time, it was for the church. After a few years though she was no longer the secretary and I decided I needed to get a computer. What a difference that made.

Most writers spend hours at a time writing. Not me. I had a full-time painting business with employees, and I had to be to work by at least 8 A.M. So, I chose to write early before I went off to work, and for only about 20 minutes at the most. I would usually do my bible reading and prayer first, and then tag on the writing. It worked well that way; and since I rarely missed my morning devotions, I hardly ever missed my writing time. It became my regular morning ritual—or an extension of my devotional time. And though some days it was hard to get into, after each writing session I felt a sense of peace and accomplishment. And it helped to set a good tone for the work day.

I kept that same ritual for as long as it took me to write my first book (20 years), and even a few years after that. Now however, since I am semi-retired, things are a little different.  I still have my quiet time in the morning, but I prefer to do my writing at a separate time. For my more technical writing, it is always easier to be near my computer, because I do so much of the research on the computer. But for the writing I am doing at this present time, which is my own story, I find it easier for me to go to a restraint and write while drinking my coffee. I also—as I am doing at this very moment—like to sit in my truck under the shade of a tree, with a coffee or water. I found a place at a park and ride location where there are several shade trees, and I hear the noise of the highway just 50 yards away. Some may regard that nose as annoying, but I’ve gotten used to it and is even kind of soothing—a good noise for writing.

How My Writing Adventure Began

At my desk. I generally always write everything out long hand first.

 My writing adventure began about 1992, while I was attending Majestic Oaks Community Church. At the beginning, I was immersing myself in many books on prayer for the purpose of prayer ministry for the church. And I was content to read just the books I had on my shelves which I had collected over the years. Later, when I was thinking about the possibility of writing a book on prayer and when I was trying to put an outline together, I found that I had to look elsewhere for more books. The place that I looked most was at the Bethel Seminary library. I wasn’t a student there, but when I told them that I needed books for a book I was writing, they agreed to get me a library card. 

I remember so well when the idea came to me about writing a book. I had recently moved into a place as a renter, and I remember lazily laying on my bed day dreaming of future possibilities of a book. I admit that my first thought was that maybe I could actually make some money on a book. But then, I also thought of just using a book to bring a good teaching to people on prayer. I concluded that I could kill two birds with one stone. Why not. So, I committed it to prayer and immediately began forming an outline. From the start of my reading on prayer, I had the desire to look at prayer from every possible angle, and to read especially from all the prayer experts and great scholars. So, I continued to go with that idea in developing my outline.

First, I scanned through all the books I had and jotted down all the possible prayer topics I could write on. I came up with over 70 topics. Too many. Then I had a great idea. If I could put them all in alphabetical order, I could entitle the book, Prayer A to Z. That would give me only 26 topics, but I could always have more than one topic under the same letter. Eventually, I managed to get all my topics in alphabetical order and also narrow the count down to just over 50. Then I got another idea. If I could come up with exactly 52 topics (chapters), that would give me a great year-long study of prayer, studying one chapter a week. I settled on that idea. It was all set. Now, all I needed to do was put it together—write the book.

I have heard from more than one Christian publishing company that authors should never brag about how their book was designed by God. And I can see their point. But just between you and me, I definitely got the impression in seeing how my book came together so easily, that God had a part in it. Yes, I do feel that God wanted me to write the book and that He definitely helped me put it together.

This is my first book, Prayer A to Z. It was published in 2013.

Prayer Ministry

Not long before we were divorced, we got a flier in the mail advertising Majestic Oaks Community Church. We decided that since it seemed like a very good church and was closer than where we were going, we would start going there. I really liked it, but she was skeptical. So, as soon as we were divorced, I stayed and she went back to where we were previously going.

Majestic Oaks was a very praying church, thanks to the pastor’s heart; and the church kept me in their prayers. I think it was just a few weeks into my divorce that I began to get a desire to do more in the area of prayer—like maybe organizing pray requests or something. One day, while helping the pastor build his house, I expressed my desire about a prayer ministry with him. And he immediately wanted me to take over and develop the church prayer ministry. So, I did.

I started by becoming a deacon. That helped me to bring my new ministry into view and to get the support of the church leaders.  I was encouraged to lead in all the activities that had to do with prayer. I led the pray meeting that met early Sunday morning before we started setting up for church. We were meeting in a theater and so we had to set up all the sound equipment, etc.

I was also encouraged by an elder to read a book by Wesley Duewel, Mighty Prevailing Prayer. It was just what I needed to really get me motivated in prayer. I also read all of E. M. Bounds’ little books, seven in all. I kept reading more and more books on prayer; I felt so encouraged that I decided that I would summarize and extrapolate what I read into a short teaching on prayer. And each Sunday I inserted that prayer teaching into the church bulletin. I think many of our people read it.

Soon I began holding a mid-week prayer meeting. We had singing with a guitar, a time of teaching on prayer, and, of course, a time of prayer and also a time of fellowship with treats. I loved it, and other did too.

We also had a prayer chain. My idea was to get people praying as soon as possible for each prayer concern that came up. I tried to encourage them to pray immediately and to pass the requests on immediately so that it would go all the way around the chain very quickly. Many didn’t like it and even suggested that it was a form of gossip; but I fought against it. We were not to talk about the prayer requests, just to pray over them.

The prayer ministry lasted as long as the church lasted—about six years after I got there. As I previously wrote, sin inflicted the pastor and his marriage and the church disbanded. But we don’t always know what happens in hearts and how God works. For those believers who love Him He will always work things out for good. That prayer ministry will, I’m sure, produce good fruit, as He intended. Sometimes we don’t know what we may have done or said to plant a seed in a heart. The war continues for all believers, good against evil. Some battles are won, some are lost; but in the end victory is won; and through it all we will discover that the incense of our prayers made a big difference.

Divorced: Disaster Hit Hard!

I remember so well the day I went to see a divorce lawyer. It was the day of the big snow storm on Halloween, 1991. On my way there a car slid into my lane right in front of me—a head on collision. My truck was badly damaged, yet I made it to the lawyer’s office. I realize now that I should have taken it as a sign not to go—because I got a bad deal. I guess it was partly my fault, because I wanted to pay as much Child Support as possible—for the kids.

But the way it worked out, no way could I afford what was set up, because of the downturn in my business. The next couple years was a disaster. My truck was totaled and I had to get another vehicle. I decided to go out of business, and I went to work as a Union painter for a big company. But I was laid off after 60 days, because they didn’t want to start paying me union dues. It was a big scam.

Even though I was working out of the trunk of an old beater—all I could afford—I decided to go back into my business. Then the next disaster struck: one of my guys fell off a ladder and broke his arm. He was patched up, but my insurance when sky high. What next? I decided to get rid of most of my employees to save me the cost of insurance.

Anyway, it was rough for a while and I wasn’t able to pay most of my monthly child support bill. So, I went way into debt, owing Child Support a lot of money. After a few years I finely got a good lawyer and was able to reduce my payment to what I could afford. I was about $55,000 in debt to them, but eventually, even while paying my monthly regular payment, I was able to pay it all off.

During that rough time, though I felt discouraged, I was seeking the Lord. Not only was I attending a good church, I was very much involved in the prayer ministry. In fact, the pastor wanted me to take over the ministry. So I did, for the next seven years. It was a great experience. Then disaster happened in that church and I had to move on. I’ll just say that the pastor fell into sin and eventually the church disbanded.

I quickly found another church—Long Lake Community Church—and was there for the next three years. It was there that I was encouraged to get into the Billy Graham telephone ministry. That was so much fun, and I was privileged to lead many to Christ over the phone.

After that time, I felt led back to Grace Church Roseville. I had gone there a few years earlier and I knew a few people who were still there. The main reason I was drawn back there is because I had heard that they had a divorce recovery group, which they called “Single Again.” I really liked the group, and I became a leader. I was on the leadership team (four of us) for about 5 or 6 years. It was a great experience.

Married and Divorced

This is where I live now, but seven years ago. It’s a little messy.

It all went by so fast. We were married in 1985 and divorced in 1991. Though it seemed like such a waste, I do have some good memories. One of the best memories were the times we rented a cabin for a few days and did some fishing. I also enjoyed dinner times when my wife would cook a big meal. She loved cooking and there was always plenty left. And then I remember the father-daughter dance. Justina, my daughter loved it. To tell you the truth, most of the marriage years were happy years—at least for me. It was those last years that kind of went downhill.

Anyway, as I said previously, out of the blue she asked me to leave. She suggested that I go live with my mom, but I couldn’t do that. I was too old for that. So, I looked for an apartment, and God supplied my needs almost immediately. It was a very nice two-bedroom unit, and right away I had plans to get some roomers to help with the rent—and I got three roommates. I put two in one room and one with me. Funny, I lived there for about three or four years, but I have no memory of the room mates, just that they were there helping me with the rent.  I guess that tells you something about who I am. I’ll leave it at that.

I don’t remember exactly what happened, only that I had to move. I quickly found another place with Gloria. She was a very nice older lady who was renting out a room, and I was welcome to use her kitchen and stove and fridge. Nice. I think I stayed there with Gloria for about four years and then she kicked me out for another guy; I think it was someone she knew. I didn’t ask any questions; I just moved.

I quickly found another two-bedroom apartment (pictured). I also found a roommate—James. He stayed with me for quite a while—about 7 or 8 years. I have many memories of James. He liked to sit and play his guitar. He also was quite a collector of Volkswagen model cars. Oh, he had boxes and boxes of model cars in his bedroom. He had hardly any room to walk around. He also would buy and sell and trade things at garage sales and flea markets. That was kind of his side business. I could tell it was fun for him, and I liked talking to him about all that stuff. Eventually, I talked him into moving somewhere else, because of some issues he had, and well, I just thought it was for the best. I guess he understood, because we are still friends.

Well, I am still living in that apartment. I have been there for 20 years now. I use the extra room for an office. Though I kind of miss having roommates, I like the freedom and the solitude. I don’t mind living alone at all. And I still work and get out and see people.

One of the great disappointments about the divorce is that I only got to see my kids once a week for a couple hours. I would usually pick them up and we would go out to eat at a family restaurant; and then we would spend the rest of the time at a park. They enjoyed running around, but I didn’t so much. They always wanted to play “monster.” That is where I would be the monster and would chase after them. They didn’t realize that I had been working all day and was tired. Oh well. It was worth it.

My Marriage: What Went Wrong?

All I can think of when it came to our marriage is a maze. We were caught in a maze. And we couldn’t find our way through—at least that’s the way it was for me. We set the date for a wedding, and so there were definite things to do to get ready. For my part, I had to find a place to live. Where I lived just wasn’t big enough for the two of us, and for the baby coming. Eventually, I found a rental townhouse that we both liked, and I moved in early to get things ready.

For her part, there was the wedding. I can’t remember being into it that much, but she was, and so was her mother. So, I guess I just agreed to everything.

To get off on the right foot, I thought a surprise honeymoon would be good. So, I went and talked to a travel agent and planned the whole thing—to the Bahamas for a week.

Let’s see, what next? Oh yea, the wedding. It went off without a hitch. No problems—that I remember. I helped move the bride in with me, and then we left for the Bahamas. She loved the whole experience, but not me so much. I was sick the whole time. It was like the flu, but different. I just think my system wasn’t use to being married; and I wasn’t adjusting well to my new bride. She was so different that me—younger and more extraverted. Yet I was confident that things would be fine—just fine.

After we got back from the Bahamas, I was anxious to get back to a normal life—my life. (Interestingly, just after she announced that she wanted me out, she said that the honeymoon was wonderful, but everything after that was terrible. She couldn’t think of one thing about our marriage that she liked.) So, I gave myself to my work, house painting. And I found that the harder I worked the better I felt—about myself and about life. But my regular job wasn’t enough. I also took up woodworking. With the baby coming soon, I would make a few things for the baby. I made a changing table, a little desk and chair, and a few other things. I felt I could do anything, and the extra work was making me feel good.

Oh, there were so many things I was involved in. In the evening I took a class at Bethel Seminary. I intended to finish my Seminary degree, but it didn’t work out. Oh well. I also decided to teach a first grade Sunday School class at church. We both did that for a long time—about five years.

What else? Oh, the kids. Yea, the kids were great. Four kids came to us: a girl, then a boy, then another boy, then another girl. I loved (love) all our kids, but she was tired of having them. And, as it turned out, she was tired of me. Out of the blue, even before the fourth baby came, she asked me for a divorce. What happened?

To this day, 39 years later, she still hasn’t told me why she wanted a divorce. She kept insisting that I knew and that she shouldn’t have to tell me. But whatever her reasons are, I have my own ideas of why the marriage went sour. Here are seven reasons:

1. I didn’t guard my purity. When I first met her and encountered her sexual advances, I should have been more guarded and backed away. If I would have done that it would have saved me from a bad marriage.

2. Too many differences. Our personalities are very different; our likes and dislikes are different; and I am 11 years older than her. The only thing that was similar was our natural attraction to each other.

3. Our spiritual levels were different. I had been a Christian for about 23 years and she had been saved for only a few months. My quiet times each day were (are) very important to me, but that whole idea was alien to her.

4. She didn’t leave her family. The bible instructs the husband and wife to leave father and mother and be joined to each other. I don’t think she did that.

5. I didn’t give her enough of my time. I didn’t try hard enough to know her and love her. I was too busy with my own stuff. I didn’t make her a high priority. Big mistake.

6. She didn’t know how to communicate. She gave up too soon. She kept too many things inside of her, and then once in a while she would let it out in anger, and I couldn’t deal with that; so I responded back in anger.

7. We didn’t know or understand each other. We didn’t take the time to develop that knowledge.

Okay, so much for the past. Here is what we should have done to get off to a good start. Rather, here is what any couple should do.

1. Wait for a natural attraction.  When you set out to find a mate in your church group or wherever you hang out with people, look for someone you are naturally attracted to.

2. Stay away from anyone who is only interested in a sexual relationship.

3. When you find someone you are interested in, ask them out on a date; someplace where you can talk. On the first or second date you should establish an understanding of what a date is, or what you intend to accomplish on a date. Set some ground rules, or guidelines, like, no sex, kissing or necking.

4. In your dating, set out to get to know each other and develop good communication skills.

5. Get to know what each other likes and dislikes.

6. Learn each other’s love language.

7. Learn how to work out your differences.

My Marriage Years: A Rocky Start

It all happened so fast, but I will have to admit that it was all my doing. I mean, I didn’t let it happen as I should have. I pushed it; I made all the choices. I remember so clearly that I wanted to be married, and I very calculatingly went after it. First, I made a list of all the possibilities; a list of about ten young women. I analyzed each one and put them into their proper order: #1, #2, #3, etc. I remember that I couldn’t decide which one I would go for. There were two that were very close. Both of them were in the church singles group, so I figured that with further observation it wouldn’t be hard to make a choice.

Well, one evening at one of the singles meetings, I had a rather intimate encounter with the top one on my list—the one who would be my future bride (I won’t give her name). Now that I am thinking about it, it was at her house and it happened after the meeting was over. I won’t go into the details of what happened, but let’s just say that, because of her insistence and my compliance, we ended up doing the dirty deed.

I don’t exactly remember what happened after that, I mean why I kept seeing her. I must have accepted the fact that her loose lifestyle was just one of those things that she hadn’t dealt with yet in her new Christian life—but that she would deal with soon. Anyway, I kept seeing her and dating her, even though we did have sexual relations occasionally. I was stuck.  I didn’t want to have an immoral relationship with her, but at the same time I wanted her. I felt that I loved her. Yes, that’s what I told myself.  And even though I would get these terrible headaches whenever I was close to her, at the same time I thought that I loved her. So, I pushed through it. We would be married.

I can’t remember what came first, my proposal of marriage or the news that she was pregnant with my child. Wow, that complicated things, yet we pushed on—and yes, she accepted my proposal. After only six months of dating, and with a child on the way, we were married.

Thinking back on what happened, there were some definite signs that I ignored, that if I had taken the time and effort to analyze and pray over them, I would have made better decisions.

One. After the first sexual encounter that she made on me, I should have stopped the relationship right there. That definitely was a sign that I should not have continues the relationship. I knew better. What was I thinking?

Two. As I mentioned, whenever we were together, even just walking and holding hands, I would get these terrible headaches. I should have recognized that that was a sign from God (and from nature) that our relationship was wrong. But I ignored it. Now I know that headaches are a definite indication that something is wrong. It was a clear indication that my peace with God was missing. Why didn’t I realize that?

My Painting Business: Customers, Part 2

This is Mrs. Collins house. Sadly, just before I painted the house for the third time, the big tree in back had to be cut down.

I wish I would have kept records of my earliest customers—from 1981 to 1990. So many of them are long forgotten. Back then I never thought I would ever need those records. Those first customers were the most fought for, and, of course, they were all new. Mrs. Collins, for example, told me that her first impression of me wasn’t that good, because I came to do the estimate in shorts and a t-shirt. But after a while I guess she got to like me and the way I explained how I would do the work—and also, the page of references I gave her. She liked my work so much that I was called back three different times, every 7 years or so. The last time I painted the house it was up for sale. She was moving. So sad to see her go. But she did give me a lead on another house—her parents’ house. Of course, I got that job. I always get referrals.

This is Mrs. Hartill’s house. My crew is busy preping it for painting.

Another early customer was Mrs. Hartill. I can’t remember how exactly I got that job, either from an ad in a local paper, or she heard of me from a friend. Well anyway, Mrs. Hartill just happened to be the widow of my favorite professor at Northwestern College, J. Edwin Hartill. I was so surprised to find out who she was. The first job she had for me was the entire outside of the house. At that time, I had a crew of 3 or 4 of us—so we got it done pretty fast.

In the next few years, she also called me for some inside work, and those times it was just me. I will never forget her kindness and hospitality. At lunch break she always insisted that I eat with her. And she always had quite a spread—so many things to eat. But food wasn’t the only thing she offered me. Being the wife of Dr. Hartill, she of course was full of bible knowledge and good stories. I always came away from lunch not only with my stomach full but spiritually filled as well.

I think sometime in the mid 1980’s I met Jill Wilson. She had (has) a beautiful house on a lake. At the time, she was recently divorced and had three young kids and a pot belly pig that walked around inside the house like a dog. So funny. I think I painted that house about three times: in the 1980’s, and then about in 1995, and again about 2000.

I sort of lost track of her for a few years, but then her friend surprisingly knew me and spoke of me. I had painted for her too. So, Jill got a hold of me again. It was so good to see her again and paint for her again. Her kids now are all grown up, and one of her girls, now married, has also given me some work. She is also very friendly just like her mom.

I think I met Dick and Kate in the early 90’s just when I was going through my divorce. I think I have painted their entire house three times. I also did some inside painting and wallpapering, and even some painting at their cabin. Oh, I also have done quite a bit of painting of their many offices that they own. So, they have really kept me busy.

They are a little hard to deal with at times, and Dick for some reason likes to help out—he slows me down. On the plus side, they are so hospitable and always insist that I join them for lunch every day when I am working. Kate will talk my ear off with her stories, but I have grown to just love her—and Dick too.

Silvia Belmont is a real gem. She is in her 90’s, but still gets around and plays her grand piano every day.  She has a very heavy Norwegian accent, and I love to hear her talk. I’ve painted the outside of her house four or five times. I never get tired of working for her. Recently, she took a fall and had some brain damage. I hope she recovers, but I know God will take her soon.

I have done work for so many wonderful people over the years. Many of them have moved away or passed on. I wish I could remember them all, especially those early ones; I foolishly destroyed their files. I counted about 20 clients that I presently have that I have done work for, for over 30 years. It’s so good to have kept them for customers this long.

Since I am retired now (have been retired for five years), I think my business will soon be ending. But some of my memories of customers will always remain, and I thank God for them. At first my business was all about work, work, work—to make money. But as the years past, I have learned not to work so hard and not to be so focused on making money. It is better to concentrate on doing a good job, whatever it takes. A good reputation and happy customers are far better than earning a little extra money. And who knows what influence as a Christian worker I will have made on a customer—both for the good work I do and also for my conversation with them.

A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold (Proverbs 22:1).

My Painting Business: Customers

This is one of the first houses I painted. I think I painted it three times over the years.

My business has always been primarily to homeowners. From when I started the business (in 1981) to the present (2020), I’m sure I have acquired over 1000 satisfied customers from over 30 localities in the Minneapolis area. I had a vision of really spreading out: I went out as far west as Minnetonka (you will have to look on a map), as far south as Burnsville, as far east as Oakdale, and as far North as Andover. But now, especially since I am retired, I see the wisdom in staying as close to home as possible. It saves on gas and it doesn’t take as long to get to work.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned over the years is to do whatever I can to please a client, and then do whatever it takes to keep that client. I would rather have satisfied repeat customers then to always have to advertise in order to get new customers. Don’t get me wrong, I like new customers, but advertising takes money. Also, if you have satisfied customers many of those will tell their friends what a good job you did, and those friends will call you for a job. I hate to brag, but for the last 20 years I haven’t spent a penny on advertising. I don’t have too; people just call me for work. Either they are repeat customers or they have heard about me from a friend. At the beginning of my business I had to advertise all the time. That’s normal. But you shouldn’t have to keep doing that.

Okay, what I do to keep track of my clients is this. As soon as I finish a job, I file the proposal for that client. Then at the end of the year I record all those jobs in my computer with their names, addresses, phone number, date of the job, and cost of the job. That’s fairly easy.  The hard part for me is calling them. I try to call every client I have at least once a year, to ask them if they need any more painting. Most of them don’t, but some do. And most of them are thankful that I called and will call me later—sometimes months later. But that’s okay.

One of the things I really love about this business is getting to know people over the years, and seeing them satisfied with the work I do for them. It’s extremely rewarding.

In my next post I will tell you about some of my favorite and most faithful clients—and maybe share some great stories.

My Painting Business: Employees

In previous blog posts, I talked about the start of my painting business: my advertising, my biding on jobs, and buying ladders and a truck. Today I will talk about hiring help (employees). When I started out, in 1981, I just hired one guy—a friend. I suppose I could have done the work myself, since I didn’t have a great deal of it; but I went on faith that more work would come in and I wanted to be ready when it did.

As it turned out, each year brought in a little more work; and so, more employees were needed. According to my records, my best year was in 1987. And so, as I remember, I had the most employees then, about 6 or 7. Those were the days. It was fun having that many workers, but also hard keeping track of everything.

I’ve always done my own payroll and taxes, and I also have been the only one to train the workers and supervise them. I guess I never have been too much of a business man, or else I would have known more about how to grow my business. My main focus has always been on doing a good job at painting and making sure my workers had the same focus. For some reason, I could never just supervise; I had to always be working myself. And that made it extra hard, because I always had one eye on the work I was doing, and the other eye on watching a new worker—making sure he was doing what I wanted him to do.

After 1987, the workload, and also the employees, gradually decreased. But surprisingly, my income did not decrease. I learned how to make money having fewer employees. I learned that paying a few good employees more money was more cost efficient that paying many so so employees less. I also learned that I could get just as many jobs if I charged more. People were willing to pay more if I could convince them that I would be doing a good job. Since 1997 I haven’t had any employees. Wow! That’s 23 years without employees. And I’ve been doing fine. I don’t make quite as much money now, but its been easier.

One of the things that was always hard from year to year when I had employees, was having to lay off most (or all) of them in the fall, because of a lack of work, and then have to re-hire new employees in the spring. I really didn’t mind the hiring process, but I hated the fact that all, or most of the guys that I had to lay off were forced to get other steady work. So, all the training I did was just for one year, and then I had to start all over again the next year.

But there were two guys that did come back from year to year: Kevin and Dave. I hired both of them in 1985, and they lasted until 1991. They were by far the best workers I had—which says a lot about the wisdom of sticking with good workers, even if you have to continue to give them raises. I would rather pay a lot for good help then to hire a lot of cheap help.

Next time I will talk about all the great customers I have gained over the years.